Madrid

Vanessa Winship,  2007, untitled, ink on paper, 29 x 22". From the series “Sweet Nothings: Rural Schoolgirls from the Borderlands of Eastern Anatolia,” 2008.

Vanessa Winship, 2007, untitled, ink on paper, 29 x 22". From the series “Sweet Nothings: Rural Schoolgirls from the Borderlands of Eastern Anatolia,” 2008.

Vanessa Winship

GLORIA LIBRERíA Y GALERÍA DE ARTE

Vanessa Winship,  2007, untitled, ink on paper, 29 x 22". From the series “Sweet Nothings: Rural Schoolgirls from the Borderlands of Eastern Anatolia,” 2008.

As simple as it was efficacious, August Sander’s approach to photography in his encyclopedic series “People of the 20th Century” is a model whose influence continues to be felt. It is not hard to detect its impact on the British photographer Vanessa Winship’s series “Sweet Nothings: Rural Schoolgirls from the Borderlands of Eastern Anatolia,” 2008, which was published as a book in 2009. Like Sander’s work, Winship’s portraits take a frontal approach and maintain a uniform distance from the subject; the human figure is presented straightforwardly and within his or her everyday environment. Thus, in contrast to Winship’s earlier photographs—those in her book The Black Sea (2007), for instance—this series is not about looking for events to capture and portray. In “Sweet Nothings,” each image makes use of the same preestablished formal pattern. The premise of the photographs is unvarying: Alone or in groups, girls in school uniforms pose; they are sometimes in the middle of town, sometimes on its outskirts, and sometimes at the school itself. But in all cases, the girls stand firmly before the camera; most look directly into it. And also as in Sander’s work, the rigidity of the initial formulation in no way undermines the spontaneity and richness of the resulting documentary images.

Winner of the Descubrimientos PHE Award at the 2010 edition of the PhotoEspaña Festival—of which this exhibition was part of the 2011 incarnation—Winship lived in Turkey for nearly five years. These photographs, which make beautiful use of black-and-white, have a virtue common to all good portraiture: They serve to describe both a social environment and an individual personality. To a large degree, the very fact that these girls from poor regions attend school reflects the Turkish government’s policy of encouraging education among girls. They are all from a similar geographic and social context, and all look dignified in their plain uniforms, though most don pieces of delicate lace around their collars. In Dogubeyezit, 2008, an image of two girls embracing in a garden, each wears her uniform in a very different manner. But mostly the personal comes through in the girls’ attitudes before the camera, which range from relaxed to anxious or excited. Almost all of them, though, have an intense look in their eyes.

The images in “Sweet Nothings” have an effect similar to that of the pictures in Rineke Dijkstra’s series “Beaches,” 1992–96, in which the clothing worn by a bather—always decidedly portrayed as an individual posed before the photographer—subtly indicates his or her social class and cultural position. With a few exceptions—among them Esenkent, 2008, in which three girls pose in front of a school blackboard, under a portrait of Atatürk, and Bogatepe, 2008, which shows a girl in front of the letters of the alphabet—Winship makes no explicit cultural or social references. The focus is on the girls themselves. And yet the fact that the school uniform, whether clean or dirty or mended, is almost always worn with dignity, does in fact say a lot about the context in which these girls are growing up, as well as about their sense of themselves and their attitude toward being photographed.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.